The lives of four Afghans provide a lens on how America's longest conflict has changed a nation – and the divisions and dangers that persist.
Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff
It has become the longest war in US history – nearly 11 years. It has consumed $57 billion in American development aid. The US military has spent more than $517 billion trying to subdue and secure one of the most invaded countries in human history. What, in the end, has the United States achieved after all this time and treasury spent in Afghanistan?
It's a valid question to ask, especially in an election year. And it's a question that many Afghans themselves are asking in earnest, as the US considers withdrawing troops by 2014.
Answering this question is tricky. US military spokesmen point to the dismantling of Al Qaeda and the buildup of an Afghan National Army increasingly capable of protecting the country from its internal and external enemies. Aid donors point to increased political freedoms, improved economic opportunities, thousands of newly built girls' schools, and rising survival rates for newborn infants and their mothers.
Add all this up, though, and the whole is a bit less than the sum of its parts. Security is faltering, as support for insurgent groups like the Taliban grows in rural areas. Tens of thousands of soldiers and civil servants have received world-class training from the West, but corruption within government remains a huge problem. Women and girls have far more access to education, health care, and political rights than during Taliban times, but those rights could be diminished if the Taliban enter a coalition government with President Hamid Karzai.
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